Italian populist Matteo Salvini has rebuked U.S. celebrity Richard Gere over whether a boatload of illegal migrants should be allowed into Italy, suggesting he should look after them in Hollywood.
Salvini, the League (Lega) leader who serves as Italy’s deputy prime minister and minister of the interior in a now-tenuous coalition with the Five Star Movement (M5S), has taken an Australia-style hard line against illegal sea crossings, believing that if it is made clear that migrant transports will not be allowed to land in Italy, fewer people will attempt to make the journey — meaning fewer drownings.
So far, the policy has proved successful, with illegal sea migration and drowning deaths both plummeting— but the NGOs which had been picking up the migrants from small boats off Libya and taking them the rest of the way to Europe are not happy at their “rescue” operations being disrupted.
Richard Gere, 69, is one of the NGOs’ many celebrity backers, and recently boarded the NGO ship Open Arms, which is carrying over 120 “stranded” migrants, to be filmed delivering supplies and taking pictures with the passengers.
They have been at sea for several days as Italy and Malta remain steadfast in their refusal to let them land.
“The most important thing for these people is that they get to a safe port & be allowed to get off the boat.”
Richard Gere, aboard the #OpenArms rescue ship with 121 people – including babies & children – who fled Libya.
— Stefan Simanowitz (@StefSimanowitz) August 9, 2019
Appearing in a video surrounded by a number of young migrant men, Mr Gere let slip that the migrants had originally been in two groups, but that one had been picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard — suggesting that the Open Arms only remains at sea because it is determined to deliver its passengers to Europe rather than a safe harbour in Africa.
Gere insisted that “the most important thing for these people is.. they’re able to get off the boat, get on land, and start a new life, get taken care of, and make a life for themselves” — but his urgings received only facetious praise from Mr Salvini.
“Given this generous millionaire is voicing concern for the fate of the Open Arms migrants, we thank him: he can take back to Hollywood, on his private plane, all the people aboard and support them in his villas,” he suggested.
“Thank you Richard!”
Visto che i suoi amici della ONG hanno 180 immigrati a bordo, sono sicuro che il generoso milionario li ospiterà tutti nelle sue ville. Sbaglio??? pic.twitter.com/mB3SIfSK7D
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) August 10, 2019